Winter Storms

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Winter is one of the most enjoyable seasons of the year, especially in Wisconsin, which boasts skiing, sledding, snowmobiling, ice fishing, hunting and many more winter activities. But winter can also be one of the most dangerous times of the year. Unlike tornadoes and hurricanes, which wreak havoc immediately, winter storms are considered among the most deceptive killers because most deaths are less directly related to the storm.

For example, people die in traffic accidents due to icy roads, or of heart attacks while shoveling snow, or of hypothermia from prolonged exposure to the cold. Although these deaths cannot be directly attributed to winter storms, they still result from it. And they can be prevented!

The simplest rule to follow involves staying indoors during winter storms. Do not drive unless it is absolutely necessary. If you must go out, use extreme caution. The number one cause of winter driving accidents is people driving too fast for conditions.

If you are caught in a storm and your car becomes immobilized, stay in the vehicle and await rescue. Do not attempt to walk from your automobile unless you can see a safe shelter nearby. Turn your auto engine on for brief periods of time to provide heat, but always leave a downwind window cracked to prevent carbon monoxide build up. Clear your exhaust pipe of snow and try to exercise by clapping your hands and moving around.

Every automobile should be equipped with a winter storm car safety kit. Minimum supplies should include extra warm clothing, blanket, water, flashlight, distress flag, shovel and sand.

Frostbite and hypothermia can set in quickly if you are not properly dressed. Frostbite causes a loss of feeling and a white or pale appearance to the extremities. Warning signs of hypothermia include uncontrollable shivering, memory loss, disorientation, incoherence, slurred speech, drowsiness and apparent exhaustion. Get medical attention immediately! If this is not possible, be careful when coming in from the cold. Most of us have a habit of warming our hands and feet by the heater or the fire. However, this drives the cold blood toward the heart and can lead to heart failure. Always warm the body core first.

While outside in cold weather, dress in layers. Underwear will provide basic insulation and move moisture away from the skin. Choose long underwear or thin snug fitting pants with a long sleeved T-shirt or turtle neck. Sweaters and sweatshirts make good insulators between underwear and outerwear. Finally, choose a properly fitting wind proof, waterproof jacket. And don't forget to wear a hat! Half your body heat loss can be from your head.

Finally, if you must shovel, take it slow and easy. When removing heavy snow, lift small amounts. If you become short of breath or feel pain, stop!

Winter Weather Terms

Winter Storm Watch- Conditions are favorable for the development of severe winter weather.

Winter Storm Warning - A winter storm is imminent. You should take precautionary measures and continue listening for future information. A Winter Storm Warning involves a forecast of heavy snow of 6 inches or more or less snow (3 to 6 inches) in combination with strong winds causing considerable blowing and drifting. Also may include the possibility of heavy sleet or freezing rain.

Winter Weather Advisory- Winter weather conditions of less magnitude than a blizzard or winter storm warning. Additional information on predicted conditions will generally be provided by the National Weather Service.

Blizzard Warning - A combination of cold air, heavy snow, and strong winds which creates the most dangerous of all winter storms. Blizzard warnings are issued when the National Weather Service predicts a heavy accumulation of snow together with winds exceeding 35 miles an hour and temperatures below 20 degrees Fahrenheit over an extended period.

Snow - A steady snowfall, typically for several hours, unless qualifying words such as occasional or intermittent are used.

Snow Flurries - Snow falling for a short time at intermittent periods. Accumulations are generally small, but visibility may be reduced.

Freezing Rain or Drizzle - Rain is likely to freeze as soon as it strikes the ground. Sleet is composed of frozen raindrops (ice pellets).